Birds of the Capitonidae Family

The word Barbet had long existed in French in the sense of a shaggy dog - a poodle or water-spaniel.  Applied to birds, it was Pennant's equivalent in 1773 (Gen. Birds, pp. 13, 14) of Brisson's and subsequently Linnaeus's genus Bucco (a word coined (from the latin bucca ; and, as explained by Pennant, referring to "the fulness of the cheeks".) in 1752 by Moehring, though applied by him to the TOUCANS); but Brisson called it in French Barbu, "from its bristles, a sort of beard" with which the beak is beset, as can be seen in the picture on this page, and hence Pennant formed his word



The type of Brisson's genus, on which that of Linnaeus was founded, was called by the latter in 1766, Bucco capensis - most unhappily in all respects, for the former had expressly given Cayenne as its habitat (In this case of the use of the extraordinary and ungrammatical adjective which has unfortunately been so frequently adopted, one can hardly doubt that Linnaeus meant to write, and very likely did write (in an abbreviated form, as was his habit), Cayensis for cayennensis, which he afterwards misread, and unluckily clenched the mistake by adding "Hab. ad. Cap. b. Spei")). The birds originally included in the genus are now recognized as belonging to two distinct Families, commonly known as Bucconidae and Capitonidae, and it is to the latter of these that the name"Barbet" is restricted by modern ornithologists, the former being known as PUFF-BIRDS.

The Capitonidae, or "Scansorial" Barbets as some authors designated them, though their climbing power is disputed, formed the subject of a beautifully illustrated Monograph by Messrs. C. H. T. and G. F. L. Marshall (London: 1870-71), who divided the Family into three subfamilies :-Pogonorhynchinae, with 3 genera and 15 species; Megalaeminae, with 6 genera and 44 species; and Capitoninae, with 4 genera and 18 species. Since the appearance of that work one new genus and some thirty new species have been described. If the subfamilies above named had been be truly established, it would seem that the Capitoninae, of which members are now to be found in the New World as well as in Africa and Asia, may from its wide distribution be regarded as the most ancient, and next the Pogonorhynchinae, inhabiting both America and Africa, while the Megalaeminae, restricted to Africa and Asia, appears to be the most modern subfamily, and two genera belonging to it, Megalaema (which appears to be equivalent to the modern 21st Century spelling of the genus Megalaima) and Xantholaema were said to be found in India and Ceylon in the 19th Century.


They are birds mostly of a bright green plumage, some of them variegated, especially on the head, with scarlet, violet, blue, or yellow-though others are plainly coloured. All of them seem to live chiefly on fruit, but insects occasionally form part of their food, and in captivity they become carnivorous. They breed in holes of trees, laying white eggs, and most, if not all of them, utter a clear ringing note, so loud as to attract general attention.

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